Thursday, April 13, 2017
Is It All in Your Head?: True Stories of Imaginary Illness
A fascinating collection of medical case histories by a London neurologist who has spent many years working with patients with what we would broadly term psychosomatic illness. O'Sullivan's cases are the most extreme of this type, including patients who have violent, prolonged, and disabling seizures that can't be seen on an EEG, meaning that they are not epilepsy or another organic disorder. O'Sullivan's point is that they are real nevertheless, and that the suffering these seizures with a psychological basis cause is devastating.
I liked O'Sullivan's tone: rational and analytical but extremely compassionate. She is honest about the anxiety she feels when attempting to explain to her patients that they need psychiatric treatment, and she is cogent about the mechanisms at work in her patients' minds and bodies. True, her writing is not quite as elegant as Oliver Sacks', or as funny as Mary Roach's, but it is very worth reading.